In Latin and South American cuisines, avocados feature in several recipes: Guacamole, tomatillo soup, chipotle chilis and chorizo breakfasts, to name a few. Indians, however, have no such adoration for the reptilian-looking fruit. While a few stalls have butterfruit shakes on the menu, most Indians remain unaware of the fruit’s culinary potential in savory dishes and even desserts.
Avocados are an ancient fruit. Over 14,000 years ago, megafauna roaming Central and South America dined on avocados as a delicacy. The glyptodonts, or, massive armadillos, used to devour avocados whole and spread the seed throughout the region.
The Aztecs adored avocados as well: While most fruits are decidedly feminine in nature, they knew the fruits as ahuacatl, or, “testicles.” This moniker stemmed from the fruit’s shape, as well as the belief that they were an aphrodisiac.
Although avocados have existed for centuries, the Hass avocado—the bumpy-skinned variant accounting for most of the avocados sold worldwide—has its origins in California during the early 1900s. Rudolph Hass convinced his children not to destroy a bizarre tree found in his neighborhood. By 1935, the small sapling grew magnificent fruits that he later patented them as the Hass avocado.
Avocados have existed in India only since the early 1900s, when they came to the country’s west coast by way of Sri Lanka.
Availability of Avocados in India:
India does not grow many butterfruits, and only a handful of sub tropical southern states grow them commercially. Regions producing the fruit include the hill slopes of Tamil Nadu, Coorg in Maharashtra, Kerala, and limited areas of Karnataka. The only state successfully growing avocados in the north is the eastern Himalayan state of Sikkim, where they grow at elevations between 800 to 1600 meters.
The avocado industry is fragmented and not well organized; however, as of 2013, a few organizations have formed to support avocado farmers and develop marketing campaigns.
The South’s main avocado season is July through August, with a few trickling in during September. Fruits grown in Sikkim arrive in September and last through October. Outside of these months, avocados are hard to find. Anecdotally, a handful of growers may store hard fruits and ripen them artificially throughout the offseason, but this is rare. India does not import butterfruit due to low consumer demand and the market’s general predilection for sweet fruits.
Where to Find Avocados in India:
From July through September, several markets sell butterfruits but their presence is sporadic: One week, a bin full of butterfruits awaits; the next, they’re gone.
Warning: few of the avocados sold in stores are edible, particularly in the early season. Only purchase an avocado that is already soft. Do not buy unripe avocados with the expectation of putting them in a paper bag or letting them ripen on the counter: there’s a good chance that they won’t ripen. While avocados can and do soften once plucked from the tree, the ones picked prematurely fail to ripen adequately—such is the case for many butterfruits harvested in India.
India’s early season avocados notoriously turn from hard and underripe, to moldy and overripe within the course of an afternoon. They’ll be hard and green on one half of the fruit; black and molding on the other. This is a clear indicator of “stem end rot,” an infamous affliction of India’s avocado crops.
Markets sell a few types of avocados discernible by their size and skin texture: some are the large, smooth-skinned Florida avocados with a light green surface; the others are the small, bumpy, dark green Haas avocados common in California.
According to the book, Management of Horticultural Crops, India grows approximately 15 commercial varieties. Avocados are also categorized by their “race,” of which there are three categories:
Mexican: the smallest type of avocado with a thin, smooth skin. Because this variety is tolerant of cold weather, it grows well in the Nilgiri Hills and Sikkim. Its 30 percent oil content contributes to a smooth, creamy flesh.
Guatemalan: A large variant with a small, central seed capable of weighing up to 600g. The fruit contains half the fat content as the Mexican race, offering only between 8 to 15 percent oil. The flesh, then, is more watery and less creamy.
West Indian: A medium-sized fruit with smooth skin and a large central pit, commonly grown in Tamil Nadu. Oil content is low, ranging from 10 to 30 percent per fruit.
Checking for Ripeness in Avocado:
All ripe avocados should yield to the touch. If a black-skinned avocado feels hollow upon pressing the skin, it’s likely over ripe. If the skin is still green, however, these “hollow” avocados may be edible. It isn’t always possible to determine ripeness based on skin color: Avocados range in color between dark green to purplish black. Smooth-skinned variants tend to have the lightest skin color, whereas bumpy fruits are darker.
The best indicator of ripeness is the color of the flesh itself. Before tossing out any avocado based on its exterior, cut it open: the pulp of a ripe butterfruit should be creamy and pale green. Fruits with a few brown/dark spots may be edible, but if the flesh is pale gray is, it’s likely spoiled. Also avoid avocados with stringy, gray flesh and an unpleasant, slightly acrid smell.
Tip: a small part of the stem remains near the top of the fruit—remove this stem piece to get a small window of the avocado’s flesh: if the flesh is green, it’s ripe. If brown, it’s spoiled.
Taste of Buttefruit:
The taste of butterfruit is smooth and—as its namesake would imply—buttery. While avocados are never sweet or sour, its mellow, rich flavor makes it a beloved fruit in other parts of the world. The initial taste resembles a luscious but un-sweet papaya, followed by a rich, pleasing aftertaste owed to its fat content.
Few, if any, eat plain avocado because of its understated, bland taste. The blandness, however, is easily rectified by the addition of simple salt, pepper, or in some recipes, even sugar. Avocado resembles butter in its use: it’s never eaten from the jar, but added liberally to enhance the flavor of certain dishes.
Butterfruit Nutritional Value:
According to the USDA nutrient database, 100g of edible avocado fruit contains the following values:
6.7g Fiber (27% RDI)
14.7g Fat (23% RDI)
2.1g Saturated Fat (11% RDI)
110mg Omega-3 Fatty acids
1689mg Omega-6 Fatty acids
2g Protein (4% RDI)
146IU Vitamin A (3% RDI)
10mg Vitamin C (17% RDI)
2.1mg Vitamin E (10% RDI)
21mcg Vitamin K (26% RDI)
.1mg Thiamin (4% RDI)
.1mg Riboflavin (8% RDI)
1.7mg Niacin (9% RDI)
.3mg Vitamin B6 (13% RDI)
81mg Folate (20% RDI)
1.4mg Pantothenic Acid (14% RDI)
12mg Calcium (1% RDI)
.5mg Iron (3% RDI)
52mg Magnesium (7% RDI)
52mg Phosphorous (5% RDI)
485mg Potassium (14% RDI)
6mg Zinc (4% RDI)
.2mg Copper (9% RDI)
.1mg Manganese (7% RDI)
.4mcg Selenium (1% RDI)
Put in perspective: One medium-sized avocado weighs 200g.
Health Benefits of Avocado:
While some may grimace at the thought of avocado’s high fat, the fruit contains a wealth of other nutrients in a single serving:
--The fruit is a powerhouse of heart-healthy fats and brain-boosting Omega fatty acids.
--Avocados are one of the only fruits containing vitamin K, a nutrient critical to metabolism regulation and blood coagulation.
--Avocados also contain a healthy dose of folate, the vitamin essential for growth and even known to act as a mild antidepressant.
--Butterfruits have the most protein concentration of any tropical fruit, and contain all of the essential amino acids.
--Its monounsaturated fats lower “bad” cholesterol
--Avocados contain more potassium per serving than bananas and have 4 times the amount of soluble fiber as an apple.
Scientific studies point to other amazing health benefits:
--A 2004 study published in the “Annals of Oncology” found that oleic acid—a compound found in olive oil as well as avocados—inhibits the growth of breast cancer cells. A 2007 article published by the Garvan Institute also explains that another compound in avocado, persin, may also kill breast cancer cells.
--A 2011 study published in the “Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications” found that specific compounds in avocados have growth inhibitory effects against oral cancers.
--According to the results of a 2012 study published in “Food Chemistry,” unripe avocado pulp has antimycobacterial properties.
--Eating avocados alongside unhealthy foods may reduce the adverse effects of consuming the junk food: A 2013 study published in “Food and Function” found that the avocado slices added to hamburgers had anti-inflammatory and vascular health benefits, thus remedying some of the negative health effects of the burger.
--A 2007 study published in “Archivos de Cardiologia de Mexico” found that when rats had their diet supplemented with Haas avocados, their HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels increased, thus proving the fruit to be a heart-healthy food.
How to Open/Cut:
Cut the fruit in half, lengthwise. The large avocado pit in the center of the fruit will prevent a clean cut, so work the knife around the pit. Once the cut has been made around the whole fruit, twist the two halves to expose the fruit and reveal the half with the pit.
There are a couple methods of removing the pit from the exposed half: the first method is to cut the piece into quarters and use the knife to wiggle away the pulp from the slice. The pit should be easily removed at this point.
The second method is to use a spoon and scoop out the pit.
Many chefs use this third method, but not recommended: hold the half containing the pit with a cloth separating one’s hand from the fruit. Take a large knife and gently whack the blade into the pit, similar to how a coconut vendor uses a machete against a coconut. The knife shouldn’t cut through the pit, but the blade should lodge itself into the pit just enough so that, when wiggled gently, the pit can be lifted from the pulp.
Hard avocados will ripen and soften at room temperature over the course of a week. To expedite ripening, wrap the avocados in newspaper and place in a wood basket. If wishing to extend the avocado’s lifespan by a week, transfer the fruits to the refrigerator.
Mashed or cut avocado flesh will brown from oxidation. As is true with apples, adding lemon juice to the flesh will prevent discoloration. Store mashed avocados by placing the mixture in an airtight container—reduce oxidation further by wrapping the container in plastic wrap.
If a person cuts the avocado soon, as evident by its hard, unyielding flesh, the fruit is not wasted—simply squeeze some lemon juice on the flesh and place the halves back on top of the other. Put the avocado back in the refrigerator and wait for it to soften.
Though whole, sliced or cut avocados do not freeze well, mashed pulp can be frozen with a bit of preparation: remove the pulp and place it in a blender, along with one tablespoon of lemon juice per avocado. Blend until completely smooth, and transfer the pulp to an airtight container or, ideally, a vacuum-sealed plastic bag. The pulp will keep for 4 to 5 months.
Butterfruit Recipe Ideas:
--Make a delicious dip for veggies by mashing avocado and adding minced garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice. This dip, known as guacamole, has a number of delicious permutations:
--Add chunks of mango, corn, papaya and tomato
--Include pomegranate seeds and stir in some orange juice
--Mix avocado chunks with corn, black bean, cilantro, mango, and tomato. Add this concoction to amaranth or millets to make it go from a dip to a healthy salad.
--Avocados are great as a dessert base: make a creamy, rich pudding mashing the pulp and whipping it with cocoa powder, banana, vanilla extract, and date syrup.
--Similarly, make a pie filling from avocados: blend the fruit with strawberries, sugar and vanilla to create a strawberry cream pie filling. Or, pour the avocado chocolate pudding into a piecrust made from blended nuts and dates.
--Create a butterfruit smoothie that resembles a creamy milkshake. Blend avocado with soy milk, vanilla extract, and sugar.
-Use butterfruit slices on sandwiches, or as a spread for crackers.
--Use as a soup cream by blending it into soups: blend in the avocado after the broth has cooled slightly.
--Make a simple avocado salad by combining chunks of the fruit with tomato, cucumber, red onions, lemon juice, salt, pepper and Italian herbs like basil, oregano, and sage.
--Blend avocados as an oil substitute for salad dressings. Avocado dressing works well on firmer greens like kale, cabbage and romaine, but may weigh down tender greens such as spinach.
*Keep in mind: Avoid juicing, heating or cooking butterfruit. Though some recipes may grill avocado halves for a minute or so, excessive, prolonged heat adversely affects the taste.
Fruits: Lemon, lime, mango, papaya, pomegranate, banana, custard apple, bullock’s heart, Bentham’s cornel, cempedak, durian, jackfruit, date, lakoocha, mabolo, passion fruit, orange, sweet lime, kumquat, lemon, lime, strawberry, sapota
Vegetables: tomato, radish, leek, turnip, cucumber, salsify, carrot, pea, pumpkin, wax gourd, mushroom, corn, green chili
Herbs, spices, and oils (savory): olive oil, parsley, coriander, basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary, salt, pepper, lemon juice, lime juice, orange juice, chili powder, achiote, turmeric, cumin, sumac, onion (yellow and red), garlic, ginger, wasabi, soy sauce, sesame, sesame oil, walnut, cashew, sunflower seeds, coconut oil, sugar, cocoa, vanilla
India exported 220kg of avocado to the Maldives in 2011.
Makhanphal, kulu naspati (Hindi)